India has strongly protested over Pakistan’s decision to block consular access for Indian pilgrims. The Pakistan foreign office in Islamabad barred visiting pilgrims from meeting Indian consular teams and diplomats. The foreign office in Pakistan also stopped pilgrims from meeting Indian High Commissioner. A Jatha of around 1800 Sikh pilgrims is travelling in Pakistan since April 12th, under a bilateral agreement between India and Pakistan that facilitates visits to religious shrines.
The Indian High Commission’s consular and protocol team is usually attached with the pilgrims who are visiting Pakistan. This is done to ensure that the diplomatic team helps out pilgrims in case of a medical or family emergency. However, this year the consular team from India were denied access to the visiting Sikh pilgrims, read an MEA press release.
The Indian High Commission team were blocked from meeting the pilgrims on their arrival at Wagah Railway Station on April 12th. They were stopped from entering Gurudwara Panja Sahib as well. The MEA lashed out at Pakistan Foreign Ministry and said that the Indian High Commission was “prevented” from performing basic consular and protocol duties for visiting pilgrims in Pakistan.
The MEA statement also said that the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan was also asked to return while en route to the shrine for “unspecified security reasons”. The High Commissioner had planned on visiting the Gurdwara Panja Sahib at the invitation of the Chairman of the Evacuee Trust Property Board. However, the High Commissioner was compelled to return without meeting the visiting pilgrims on the occasion of Baisakhi due Pakistan’s blockade.
The Government of India has protested strongly and has raised concerns over Pakistan’s behaviour. The MEA also called this act by Pakistan as nothing but inexplicable diplomatic discourtesy. It also pointed out that the incidents of blocking the High Commissioner from meeting the pilgrims was a clear violation of Vienna Convention of 1961, Code of Conduct (treatment of diplomatic personnel in India and Pakistan) of 1992 and finally the bilateral protocol to visit religious shrines,1974.
On the contrary, Pakistan rejected India’s charge and called the allegations baseless. A statement from the Pakistan Foreign Ministry read, “It is ironic that India accuses Pakistan of violating 1974 Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines. The Government of India is in clear violation of the protocol. It has denied visas to Pakistani pilgrims twice this year on occasions of Urs of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Ajmeri. India also scuttled at least three visits of Sikh and Hindu pilgrims to religious shrines in Pakistan since June 2017”.
According to the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, the officials had promptly processed the schedule and had granted travel permissions. But, it had to cancel the visit of the Indian Commissioner as there was a strong resentment among Sikh pilgrims over a release of a film on Baba Guru Nanak Dev. The Ministry in Pakistan felt that the emotionally charged environment was not suitable for the visit. With regard to the issue at Wagah Railway station, Pakistani officials said that the matter was resolved through the intervention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but the Indian High Commission chose not return.